Those who are new to the fitness world might not be familiar with the term delayed onset muscle soreness aka DOMS. But chances are very high that you will experience DOMS firsthand at some point in your health and wellness journey. For the novice athletes, this type of pain and soreness can be intimidating, but for the elite athletes, it is a badge of honor. So, what is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)? How does it differ from the common muscle soreness that we experience after an intense workout, and what are the causes and cures of DOMS?
What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)?
As the name suggests, DOMS refers to the intense stiffness and pain in the muscles that is felt well after a strenuous and unaccustomed physical activity. DOMS usually shows up 24-48 hours after doing high-intensity physical activity that your body is not accustomed to. Examples of physical activities that are known to cause delayed onset muscle soreness include:
- strength training exercises
- step aerobics
- walking down the hills
All of these physical activities cause the muscles to lengthen while the force is applied. This is referred to as eccentric muscle action and is the primary cause of DOMS. The eccentric muscle action causes micro-trauma to the tiny fibers within the muscles which leads to soreness, inflammation, swelling, and pain. In plain and simple words we can say DOMS is a temporary condition caused by microscopic damage to your muscle fibers as a result of performing a physical activity that is a bit too intense, too long, too challenging and or completely new.
DOMS V/S Common Muscle Soreness
Discomfort (pain, soreness, and swelling of the muscles) and strenuous physical activity go hand in hand. Anyone who wants to gain stamina, increase muscular power, or enhance endurance must come out of their comfort zone. Sometimes the discomfort is temporary in nature and begins during or immediately after your workout. This is known as common muscle soreness or muscle fatigue. Sometimes, you do not experience any sort of pain or soreness until a day or two after a strength training session. This is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. With DOMS you feel sorer the second day or third day after performing an intense physical activity. The strange thing about DOMS is that it doesn’t manifest until 24-48 hours following an intensive and/or unusual eccentric muscle action. This is because it takes a while for some physiological and metabolic processes (that start to repair those microscopic muscle tears) to manifest as muscle soreness and pain.
Symptoms of DOMS | What Is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
There are numerous characteristics of DOMS beyond local muscle soreness and pain. Some of the most common symptoms associated with DOMS are:
- the pain, inflammation, and soreness is worst 24-48 hours after a hard workout
- temporary reduction in the strength of the affected area
- swelling of the affected area
- tenderness to touch
- stiffness of joints
- elevated Creatine Kinase (CK) enzyme in the blood
In short, it is not hard to differentiate DOMS symptoms from common muscle fatigue symptoms as they are pretty easy to notice during normal day-to-day functions.
How to Treat DOMS
Before we discuss the treatment options for DOMS, it is important to note that DOMS can happen to anyone, even expert trainers can get it; DOMS is not a bad thing. But, it does not mean that you should experience the awful pain for days and months.
The best treatment for DOMS is to avoid it in the first place. Although there are no scientifically proven ways to prevent DOMS, here are a few simple tips to avoid muscle soreness:
- warm up prior to physical activity
- be gradual – progress slowly while performing any new workout
- perform mild stretching exercises before and after the workout
- stay active after the workout
- keep yourself hydrated
If you still experience DOMS you can treat it with:
- RICE – rest, ice, compression, elevation
- Medications – such as NSAIDs like ibuprofen
- Acupuncture & Dry Needling
- Soft Tissue Massage
- Joint Mobilisation Techniques
- Stretching exercises
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